An HIV-positive person who takes anti-retroviral drugs after diagnosis, rather than when their health declines, can cut the risk of spreading the virus to uninfected partners by 96%, according to a study.
The United States National Institutes of Health sampled 1,763 couples in which one partner was infected by HIV. It was abandoned four years early as the trial was so successful. The study began in 2005 at 13 sites across across Africa, Asia and the Americas.
"This breakthrough is a serious game changer and will drive the prevention revolution forward. It makes HIV treatment a new priority prevention option," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS).
But he warned that it would cost more than ten billion dollars to provide drugs to the ten million people worldwide who are currently not receiving medication for HIV.
This latter point is crucial. Many HIV-infected people, especially in Africa, are dying earlier than might otherwise be expected because they cannot afford the anti-retroviral drugs. Will the richer countries step up and say that with a huge investment now in anti-retroviral drugs we can dramatically reduce the spread and thus the overall incidence of HIV? It is estimated that 80 percent of HIV infections are spread through sexual transmission, but the anti-retroviral treatment requires a positive diagnosis of HIV prior to sexual activity. Will at-risk people in Africa and elsewhere step up and be tested in vastly greater proportions than is currently taking place?